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Doctorates "made in Germany"

By Sonja Pfaff

Germany as a mechanical engineering nation is an excellent place for engineers of all disciplines to complete their doctorate. The title "Dr.-Ing." is recognised worldwide.

Doctorates "made in Germany"© Christian Lagereek - iStockphoto.com
In the engineering sciences, the traditional route to a doctorate is still the norm: often described as the apprenticeship model or assistant doctorate, the doctoral thesis is written in consultation with a doctoral supervisor. Students wishing to complete a doctorate apply directly to the professor of their choice, who selects his or her doctoral candidates him- or herself. In general, only holders of a Diplom or Master degree who have demonstrated above-average results in their degree course are admitted to a doctorate.

A traditional doctorate as a first career phase

During their doctorate, doctoral candidates are employed by the university and generally considered colleagues rather than students. Doctoral candidates' social and labour law status is transparent and secure. Independent research and teaching is expected, as is the ability to work in a team and make decisions.

In addition to carrying out their own research, doctoral candidates take on a wide range of tasks in day-to-day research operations at the institutes. They are for example indispensable in carrying out large-scale third party funded projects which are often implemented across disciplines and in collaboration with industry. They also work in areas such as acquisition, project management, presentation and team management. Research in Germany is generally very practice-oriented, and particularly in the engineering degree courses laboratories are usually technically very well equipped.

Other routes to a doctorate

Although the traditional doctorate remains the most widespread in the engineering sciences, the options for gaining a doctorate through special graduate colleges or structured doctoral programmes are increasing. At approximately three and a half years, the duration of these programmes is a little shorter compared to traditional doctorates, which take over four years. In addition to universities and colleges there are also independent research institutions where a doctorate can be completed. Especially interesting to engineers is for example the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, which focuses on applied research and assigns very practice-oriented topics for doctoral theses.

Costs and funding options

Doctoral candidates who choose the traditional route are employed on a fixed-term contract and receive a salary that allows them to cover their living costs. But there are also possibilities in Germany for doctoral candidates with no income to fund their degree through grants and funding programmes. The cost of completing a doctorate in Germany varies greatly. Apart from a few exceptions, there are no course fees, and like students, doctoral candidates can take advantage of all the services of the student unions, live in student halls of residence and eat affordably in the cafeteria. They are additionally required to pay for health insurance (approximately 280 euros per semester) and the semester contribution, which varies from university to university and ranges from 50 to 250 euros per semester. Graduate colleges handle the issue of fees very individually, therefore one should always enquire directly with them.

German is not required

Being able to speak German makes day-to-day life easier, but it is not a requirement. The often internationally staffed teams usually communicate in English, and lectures are frequently held in English too. The dissertation itself can also be written in English.

Partners from industry are common

63% of higher management positions in German mechanical engineering companies are held by engineers, many of whom have a doctorate. In the application technologies such as automotive engineering, mechanical engineering or building technology, Germany is among the most prolific patent applicants worldwide. Many engineering doctorates are completed with industry partners who benefit from the know-how of the institutes and award them research contracts, leading to excellent connections between research and industry. In Thuringia for example there are renowned institutes at the universities of Erfurt, Jena and Ilmenau that work in solar technology; clustered around them is a significant accumulation of companies in the photovoltaics industry. Working closely together, they cover the entire value creation chain from research and development to the finished product.

Engineers who have completed their doctorate in Germany have excellent chances on the German labour market. Due to the skills shortage that has prevailed for years, companies are desperately seeking well-trained graduates in order to remain competitive in a global market in the long term.

DAAD» :: June 2009